I got an email today from my mom who said that I received a jury summons in the mail. I suppose most people would be glad that they had the excuse of being abroad to avoid jury duty, but I was rather regretful. I’ve always wanted to serve on a jury since I worked as a Legal Assistant at a Chicago law firm and I assisted with mock jury exercises. But well, they wanted me on November 19th, and I most certainly don’t plan to be in the US at that time, so I won’t get that opportunity. This is something I never thought about when moving abroad. When you move abroad, I recommend keeping some sort of address in the US even if you don’t really plan to return there–a parent’s address or a close friend. Someone you can be sure will stay at that address and is willing to receive your mail and communicate with you when something important comes that needs your attention. You can therefore receive mail there that can’t be sent overseas. But of course doing so means that local officials will think you actually live there, especially if you use this address to register to vote. Most states use voter registration rolls as their “database” from which to draw jurors. I thought getting out of jury duty might turn into a big deal and with unreliable internet here in Spain, I was initially nervous that a simple email to the county wouldn’t suffice. There are rather strict rules for getting out of jury duty, and if you’re not in town when you are summoned you have to postpone your summons and serve when you get back, unless you can prove you will be a non-resident for the foreseeable future. I suppose not all counties will react the same way, but in the end an email was enough for my county where I am registered. They didn’t even ask for proof of living abroad. If you get a jury summons while living abroad, I suggest you immediately consult the website of your state’s secretary of state or judicial branch and see if you can find information about how to officially remove yourself from the obligation to serve. It is here you can also find the names, phone numbers, and email addresses for the people you should contact in order to get out of jury duty.
On another note, when you live abroad you may realize somewhat quickly, particularly if you’re political junkie like myself, that many new laws and legislation rarely take Americans living overseas into account. The best and most recent example of this is Obamacare. I’m in favor of health care reform (not exactly the way Obamacare does it, but that is for another post), and were I in the US I would probably be one of those that would immediately benefit from the program. But I am here in Europe where I have insurance that covers me throughout the EU. I don’t need American insurance, Obamacare or otherwise. But as far as I can tell, there is no exception for Americans living abroad with locally provided insurance from the individual mandate. I’ve read parts of the law, submitted requests to my Senator and representative to look into this issue, searched the web, and I even heard someone ask the same question on one of my many podcasts I listen to (have I mentioned how great podcasts are for keeping in touch with whats going on back home? as well as where you live? as well as to help learn a foreign language?). The caller asked an expert on Obamacare and health delivery systems in America more generally, and he didn’t know. So I can only assume that this is not covered in the law, and therefore Americans living abroad who also file taxes with the American government will probably have to pay the penalty for not buying insurance. This is a real problem, because unlike most people in the world, Americans are required to pay taxes to the US as well as to the country in which they work. This is yet another tax that (in my view) unfairly punishes people living overseas. However, if you’re a student abroad and therefore not working, you may not need to file taxes as your income may be too low. If that is the case, you won’t be subjected to the Obamacare tax. (For more on the individual mandate and the various exemptions from it, see the FAQs here).
Fortunately, there are a few organizations that specifically represent Americans living overseas and their interests, and it appears that the Association for Americans Resident Overseas is taking this issue seriously and is actively lobbying to get an exemption placed into the Affordable Care Act for Americans abroad. I’ve also attended events by Democrats Abroad, during both elections I’ve been abroad for, and the Overseas Vote Foundation is a great resource to help you vote from abroad. Many of these organizations provide local meetups and other events so this is also another great way to meet other Americans in your area (if you’re so inclined). It is also a great way to stay connected with the US and the issues that are of most important to you as an American living abroad.
The lesson is that things come up while abroad. Laws change that may directly affect you, and no matter how much you planned before leaving duties will call in the US that will need to be dealt with. Usually these things can be easily taken care of from abroad but there might be things like Obamacare that may seriously impact your finances. The best advice I can give for these situations is to stay connected with organizations working on your behalf and well…roll with the punches. The penalty for being uninsured under Obamacare will only be $45 the first year, but it is going to increase the more time you spend “uninsured.” Hopefully before that happens an exception will be written into the law.
Use this website for finding out who your representative in Congress and your Senators are, and how to get in touch with them.